Known for the hit song ‘Mbona,’ which he collabed with Daddy Owen, Dennis Kariuki aka Denno, made a name for himself in gospel music. He spoke to Sheila Kimani about being born blind, music and his love life
Tell us about your family background...
I was born in Nairobi’s Kangemi estate, though we later relocated to Rongai when I was 10 years old. I am the second born in a family of three. My brother, who is older than me, is into business, while my younger sister is still in school.
Were you born blind?
Yes. I was born visually impaired. However, I didn’t quite understand my condition until I grew older. I heard other kids mention colours like red, blue and green, which I had never seen.
How was it like going to school and interacting with the rest?
It was a ‘normal’ experience. I think I was too young to understand. We played all the games together, including hide and seek!
Did they discriminate against you?
Not really. At times, I could feel them trying to protect me when we were playing. They made me feel as one of them. They were the best friends.
What is your best childhood memory?
My school days at the Thika School for the Blind. Here, I met other kids who were like me and we could interact and converse on the same level.
My best moment was when our sponsors and well-wishers visited over the weekends. This meant a change of diet from the usual ugali and beans to something like rice and beef.
When did your music career kick off?
That was in 2010 when I cleared school. A friend of mine called Peter was very passionate about music, so we decided to do a song together. We looked for the late John Nyika who produced our song, Ninapokuita.
Was it difficult handling the music business back then?
Yes. We were just starting out in the industry, but Nyika held our hands and offered guidance. With time, our confidence grew and we started performing in churches and concerts. Eventually, money started flowing in.
You became famous after releasing the song, ‘Mbona.’ Is it your biggest hit ever?
Yes. I am forever grateful to Daddy Owen. Composing Mbona and going through the whole music production was an eye-opener, so to speak!
What are your lowest and highest points in life?
The best memories are endless. When I am on stage and the crowd is singing along and cheering me on, I feel special. When someone calls me to congratulate me or asking me to sign a deal; that is also special. I rarely dwell on negative things. I have no energy.
Do you still have beef with Daddy Owen?
No! Who said I did? I don’t like talking about that issue because I left it in 2015. I have no beef with Daddy Owen or MCSK (Music Copyright Society of Kenya) for that matter. I can only hope for better days going forward.
Are you now in a better position to claim your MCSK royalties?
Yes. I have learnt what MCSK is all about and how to get the royalties on my own. They recently introduced the MCSK foundation from which I expect to receive medical insurance. I believe they are playing a much-needed role in the music industry.
How is your relationship with Bahati?
It’s great. He is a very good friend and I appreciate the far we have come together. I appreciate that he understood me and even agreed to collaborate with me on Story Yangu.
From where I stand, I always pray that he stays blessed for his kindness and compassion.
Do you think people living with disability are taken advantage of?
That is true. We need a society where everyone is respected irrespective of their physical appearances and abilities.
You always look smart whenever you step out for performances. Who dresses you?
I have people close to me that go out of their way to get me fashionable designs. They always ensure I look sharp before I step out. I call them my ‘wardrobe managers.’
Is Denno dating?
Do we know her?
There is no way I’m telling you her name or personal details, but you might have seen her at the concerts.
She is not a musician, and I do not attend very many events with her because I like protecting her from the public. I have realised that the showbiz life can be very tricky, especially if one bares it all. So, it is good to protect those that you love. She is my one and only.